Hydrogen plus electric: into an eco-future

Posted on January 21st, 2013 by

Photo courtesy by Zero Emission Resource Organisation


As car manufacturers move increasingly to environmental models, one that hopes it will have a head start is Japanese automotive manufacturer Mazda, thanks to its long history pioneering the hydrogen rotary engine. 

In essence, hydrogen is the fuel of eco-dreams, since burning it emits only water-vapor that does no damage to the environment. The drawback is that it is extremely flammable, which in an ordinary engine means it is prone to abnormal combustion due to the high temperature of the spark plugs. But by separating the intake chamber from the combustion chamber, Mazda has been able to counter that and come up with a hydrogen engine that is safe as well. 

After a series of prototypes since 1991’s HRX, the technology was first used commercially in the RX-8 Hydrogen RE, which began to be leased commercially in 2006. The RX-8 was duel fuel, working in tandem with a gasoline engine to reassure drivers they could travel long distances without having to worry about running out of hydrogen fuel.    

Now the signs are that Mazda will move to twin the hydrogen rotary engine with battery power, for an Eco-fueled dream team. CEO Takashi Yamanouchi announced last year that the technology could well be used as a range extender in the company’s next generation of electric vehicles.

With the limited range available on battery power alone, most hybrids use a gasoline engine to fall back on, either generating electricity to recharge the battery, or working by itself. If that job could be done by a hydrogen rotary engine, then we really could be in for the world’s first long-range carbon-emission free cars.

There is no indication yet which model Mazda intends to try out the EV/hydrogen combination with. The CX5 and the Mazda6 are the flagship models for the foreseeable future, with both currently using the company’s well-established Skyactiv fuel efficient traditional fuel engines. 

Could we see a hydrogen rotary/electric version of either one of these in the next few years? Judging by last year’s hints coming out of Mazda, it would be unwise to bet against it.

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author, Ben Stuart is a car enthusiast who has been writing about new and existing models for a number of years. He particularly enjoys the test drives. In this article, he writes about Eco friendly technology, with particular reference to Mazda’s hydrogen fueled Rotary engine.

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